The Lamb Mothers

I jumped on the bandwagon and posted a reaction on Rice Daddies to Amy Chua’s article and book about the  differences between Chinese “Tiger Mothers” and Western mothers (Can we call them Lambs?) But I’m not done yet. I have more to say to the Tiger Mother — And I know I do so at the risk of helping her sell more books that perpetuate dangerous American stereotypes about Asian and Asian American students and their parents. But there still so much to get off my chest.

At the end of his sequel to I Not Stupid, Jack Neo makes a poignant statement about how when children are very young, just learning to walk, we parents offer an abundance of encouragement but somewhere along the line we trade those words of encouragement for admonishments and in some cases the soothing warmth of a comforting hug becomes the sting of a cane.

He is right. I’ve often joked about this differences between Chinese parents and American parents:

When an American toddler who has just learned to walk falls down as he attempts to run, the American parent makes haste to run to the fallen child’s aid and offer comfort. The Chinese parent, however, crosses her arms, back straight, looking down on the crying child, says: Aiiiiiyaaaaa! Are you kidding me? Looking at all those other children walking and running! Why are you so stupid? That’s why none of the other children want to play with you! They know you are so useless and would hold them back! I am so ashamed! I should just leave you here so you can see how tough life is for toddlers who don’t know how to walk and run!

On the Western mother, Russell Peters has this excellent monologue:

I knew someone just like Ryan in middle school (that’s what makes the joke even funnier). It seemed his mother was at his beck and call – and obedient to his every whim.

When I think of discipline I always recall an experience I had at Bank Street. I received my Masters in Museum Education from Bank Street College.  As a part of the program, in one of my classes (I forget which one) the instructor brought in several high school students to speak with the class. When asked what their expectations of a good teacher were, one student answered: “Don’t be our friend.”

The student went on to explain the dynamics of student-teacher relations. She said something to the effect of: “Teachers are supposed to give us homework and tell us not to do things and we’re supposed to complain about homework and be told not to do things.”

I don’t know if she knew it but in her response she made some interesting assumptions about the social dynamics of authority. Her expectations were that an authority figure (a teacher) would set up boundaries for her to push against. I wish we would have pushed the conversation in the other direction. She told us what she expected from a teacher but we never learned (at least I can’t remember learning) what she thought of an overly permissive teacher.

There’s been an abundance of railing against the Tiger Mother. But what about the “Lamb Mother,” the permissive one?  The fierce reaction to the Tiger Mother is proof enough her methods scar deeply. However, does opposition to the Tiger Mother mean acceptance of the Lamb Mother?

I have seen the Lamb Mother looking dejected as her Tiger child sprawls on the floor screaming because he was denied. I have seen the Lamb Mother dragging her Tiger child behind her as he kicks and he roars: No, No, NO! I have seen the Lamb Mother red faced, shrinking from the daylight, as her Tiger child cries: Mine, Mine, MINE!

My son was a meal for a Tiger child once. The Tiger child took his toy car and refused to give it back. He hit his Lamb Mother and kicked sand at my son. The Lamb Mother extended a dollar to me and offered to pay me for the car. I was stunned! Was the Lamb Mother serious? Was she offering to buy me off because she did not want to confront her son? She smiled weakly. The Tiger child already gone off with his kill.

I refused the money (much to the Lamb’s surprise). I picked up my son, hugged him, and told him not to cry. I asked him to remember how he felt and to never do what that boy did or he would make other kids feel like he did right then and there. He told me he understood and that he would never be like that “mean boy.” I set him down so he could walk on his own. And we walked away, hand in hand, from the Lamb mother still sulking over my refusal and her Tiger child gone on another hunt, noble Lion Son and proud Peacock Dad.

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